Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
James McDonald is that rarest of musical phenomena, an intelligent tenor.I know not (nor do I much care) what he might be able to do with "E lucevan le stelle" or "Ladonn'e mobile"; Monday night in the most impressive performance in a long evening's music by the Theater Chamber Players. What's more, he managed this trick while singing on the same state with Phyllis Bryn-Julson, the compleat soprano - but, of course, he was helped considerably by the quality of his material.
Benjamin Britten's Canticle III, "Still Falls the Rain" ranks high among the many master pieces he composed for Peter Pears, whose performance are (or should be) the envy and inspiration of any tenor who aspires to become a musician. Monday, in this anguished, brooding music, McDonald's interpretation served as a reassurance that when Peter Pears stops singing (as, sooner or late, he must), there will be other tenors ready and worthy to interpret the great repertoire he has inspired.
With Dina Koston's piano and Robert Sheldon's horn providing succinet, vivid commentary. McDonald delivered Britten's melodic lines and Edith Sitwell's somber text with deep emotional involvement, flawless clarity and superb musical control.
Earlier, her performed in partnership with Byrn-Julson in two striking and unusual works, one of which was very good. The Bicinium De Passione of Exhard Bodenschatz, dating from 1615, is a small masterpiece by a composer I had never heard before - a single Latin line from the New Testament: "The blood of Jesus Christ, Son of God, cleanseth us from all sin." It provided a striking pre-echo of the Britten work, in which the text links the ageny of World War II to that of the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and helped to give the concert sense of unity and historic continuity.
A similar effect may have been intended in the two works performed by The Washington Quarter: four Purcell fantasies and Bartok's Quartet No. 2, but here the impact was less striking. It was least striking of all in the "Inscapes" of Anthony Gilbert, which gave Eryn-Julson a chance to do some virtnoso singing but made one wonder why she would bother.